THE USES OF PAULOWNIA
For all those who do not know paulownia, it will be surprising to find out how many uses the plant can be used for.
USES OF TIMBER
The first element of surprise concerns the weight / strength ratio, with operators in the sector who initially find it hard to believe that such a light wood can also be resistant.
If we add the aforementioned characteristic to all the properties seen above, we discover that paulownia wood is used in many processes and to obtain the most varied products, such as, by way of example and not limited to:
Thanks to its high flash point, its excellent compressive strength index, its insulating properties, paulownia is widely used in the construction sector, for the construction of houses, floors, load-bearing structures, poles, beams, ceilings, coatings, upholstery materials, fixtures, doors and any furniture.
The high strength-to-weight ratio associated with its limited moisture absorption, as well as resistance to atmospheric agents, makes paulownia wood very valuable in shipbuilding, aircraft construction, surfboard manufacturing, skiing, snowboards, saunas, swimming pools and everything that requires good quality, light and aesthetically beautiful timber.
Because of its insulating and sound-absorbing properties, combined with the already seen lightness and resistance, paulownia has been used for centuries for the production of musical instruments, handicrafts, toys, as well as for the production of equipment for concert halls and recording studios; typically made of paulownia are the famous Japanese clogs, which everyone will remember.
Thanks to its lightness and resistance, paulownia wood is in great demand in the packaging sector, for the production of boxes, containers and pallets for transport.
Paulownia leaves, rich in proteins (over 20%), fibers and microelements, and with good digestibility, are used in many countries for feeding animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. To this element is added the possibility of cultivating multi-year forage meadows between the rows of paulownia, creating the optimal conditions for creating natural pastures within which animals can grow in ideal conditions for their health.
BIOMASS AND ENERGY
In the paulownia tree, both the wood of the trunk and the twigs and foliage, as well as for the uses already seen, can be used in order to produce pellets and alternative energies.
Very often, in paulownia plantations, the first part of the trunk, perfectly straight and without knots, is used for precious wood, while the rest of the plant, equal to about 60% of the total volume, is used for other purposes, including:
PELLET - from paulownia an excellent pellet is obtained, a solid fuel for boilers and fireplaces with a great calorific value, and for years widely used all over the world.
BIOFUEL, BIOETHANOL, BIOGAS - in recent years, the increasing attention to protecting and safeguarding the environment has pushed governments and operators towards alternative forms of energy produced through the use of renewable sources; this thrust has resulted in the creation of innumerable plants for the production of biogas and biofuels, many of which struggle to find on the market the raw material necessary for the correct and constant operation of the plants. Paulownia, used individually or together with other raw materials, has proved to be an excellent source of power for many plants. Similarly, by exploiting a technology born in the USA, based on the combination of thermochemical and biotechnological methods, it is possible to extract bioethanol from paulownia.
BIOCHAR - With all the so-called "Waste" from the paulownia tree (twigs), biochar, also called charcoal, can also be produced, which is obtained from pyrolysis, or the combustion of plant biomass in conditions of absence or limited presence of oxygen. From the pyrolysis process, a gas (syngas) is obtained with a calorific value similar to LPG, as well as biochar.
Biochar, whose content is about 90% of carbon, is considered a very useful soil improver; thanks to its content and high porosity, biochar improves the structure of the soil and increases water retention. As confirmed by the Italian Biochar Association, "The compact structure of biochar allows this product not to be degraded by soil microorganisms and therefore to store carbon instead of returning it to the atmosphere in the form of CO2 as in the case of compost or burning of pruning residues (Kuhlbusch et al., 1996; Lehmann et al., 2002, Harris and Hill, 2007). According to Yanai et al. (2007), the use of biochar on agricultural land allows to reduce emissions of N2O from the soil, a greenhouse gas with a Global Warming Potential 296 times greater than CO2 (IPCC, 2001). From this picture it emerges that biochar is the only climate change mitigation technique that is not only carbon neutral, but even carbon negative, that is, it sequests more carbon than it emits to produce energy. It is estimated that a 250-hectare farm that uses bio-char with added nitrogen is able to sequester 1900 tons of carbon per year (http://www.biorenew.iastate.edu). Further research is needed but the results obtained so far are positive, so much so that biochar has been included in the agenda of the upcoming international negotiations on climate change as the most promising climate change mitigation strategy. This will allow, among other things, the creation of an international trade regulated by the United Nations of CO2 credits linked to the use of biochar. Companies will be able to offset their emissions by purchasing carbon credits avoided thanks to this new technology. At the same time, a voluntary market is developing on which even those who do not have emission reduction obligations can purchase credits."
As already seen, not only can a paulownia plantation produce "carbon credit" by absorbing enormous quantities of CO2 and harmful gases and releasing oxygen into the air, but also by exploiting the branches for the production and consequent use of the biochar, in addition to improving the quality and structure of soils, could in the future constitute a source of income through the commercialization of emissions credits.
From the large and beautiful flowers of paulownia it is possible to obtain an excellent honey, still difficult to find in European markets but very widespread in China, Australia, New Zealand, United States; flowering at Italian latitudes can last over 2 months, and from one hectare of paulownia (timber plantation), over 500 kg of honey can be obtained per year. Paulownia honey, which many consider as a flavor close to that of acacia, is a perfect natural sweetener, rich in vitamins and minerals, with excellent antiseptic, antibacterial and antioxidant properties, and very useful against hypoglycemia.
PHARMACEUTICAL AND COSMETICS
Paulownia leaves are known to contain substances that have beneficial effects on the liver, lungs, kidneys and gall; some studies have shown that some parts of paulownia contain substances with antitumor efficacy.
LANDSCAPE AND PUBLIC GREEN
Thanks to its large foliage, the huge leaves, the beautiful fragrant flowers, paulownia is the ideal tree to be planted in parks, squares, public gardens, city avenues, forming cool areas that can be considered real "urban lungs. ". The use of paulownia is therefore an excellent opportunity also for local administrations who want to increase the city's green spaces, improving their appearance and contributing to cleaning the air.
PAULOWNIA AND INTERCROPPING
A very important opportunity that the cultivation of paulownia offers to those who approach this crop, is the possibility of combining it with other crops, exploiting the inter-rows spaces. In particular, during the first 3-4 years from the moment of planting, in fact, with intercropping, crops such as cereals, soybeans, beans, alfalfa or other multi-year meadows, vegetables, medicinal and aromatic herbs can be cultivated together with paulownia etc., through which the farmer has the possibility to produce an income from the year 0, without having to wait for the first cut of the paulownia. The leaves and flowers of paulownia, together with its root system, contribute to the improvement of the soil and create an ideal microclimate for intrafila crops, increasing their yields.
As will be seen in the appropriate section of our website, Paulownia Italy offers farmers a technical solution that includes intercropping cultivation, which we believe represents the future of paulownia cultivation in Italy and Europe, as has been the case in other areas of the world.